Court strikes clergy tax-free housing allowances

(Christian Post) A federal judge in Wisconsin has struck down a law that exempts clergy members from paying income taxes on housing allowance, declaring it unconstitutional in a case filed by Freedom From Religion Foundation. Family Research Council called the judgment “supreme arrogance.”

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision on Friday affects thousands of pastors who can currently pay house rent or home ownership costs, including even mortgage payments and property taxes, with their untaxed income.

In her ruling, the judge wrote that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise,” as quoted by the Wisconsin State Journal.

Referring to a 2002 statement by then Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad saying the exemption would save clergy members $2.3 billion in taxes in five years, Crabb said the extent of the benefit reveals flaws in the law.

The decision in the lawsuit filed by the atheist group against U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel is a “really big deal,” The Associated Press quoted Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison-based group FFRF, as saying. “A church currently could pay a minister $50,000 but designate $20,000 of it a housing allowance so that only $30,000 would be taxed as salary.”

The judge said the defendants could not justify how paying taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for clergy than the many millions of others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses. [More]


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